Naw Lee Myar

0173 Loikaw - Naw Lee Myar (1)ARI Name: Myar
at ARI: 1998 (Training Assistant 2007)
Country: MYANMAR
Home: Loikaw
Organization: Kayah Hpu Baptist Association
Position: Director of Christian Social Service and Development Department (CSSDD)
Work area: Kayah State

“When I stay in the front, the kids all come with me, so I have to carry [my baby] and just stand in front of the people like that, because I don’t want to give up.”

As the director for the Christian Social Service and Development Department (CSSDD) in the Kayah Hpu Baptist Association, Myar organizes training and awareness programs for community and women’s groups in areas such as water and sanitation, maternal child health, women’s empowerment, and malaria prevention, coordinating with the many international NGOs that have recently come into Kayah State. Additionally with support from the US embassy, they are taking on the issue of unexploded mines left over from the years of struggle between the government and many of Myanmar’s ethnic groups.

Previous to her current position, Myar served as a Women’s Secretary in the association. At that time a pressing issue was human trafficking, with the greatest risk being to young girls who had to move to the towns from their remote villages to go to school. The practice was to make boarding arrangements with a family in town, but some families were deceptive and made the girls work or forced them into the sex trade. However, due to awareness programs conducted by Myar and other organizations, the villagers have learned to become more careful, and these incidents have nearly disappeared. Myar herself took in several student boarders last year and each night the house would be buzzing with children doing their recitations. Another highlight of her work in the women’s group was construction of a two-story training center. As no funds were available from the church for this project, the women raised money by setting aside a handful of rice each day as they cooked dinner. This rice was combined and sold. Within 5 years they finished the project which now serves as a meeting place and facility to teach about and make Kayah traditional textiles – including wedding dresses – for income generation.

As Myanmar transitions toward democracy, a major challenge they are facing is the nearly 70 years of fighting that has been going on between the government and ethnic rebel groups. Recently ceasefires have been mutually agreed upon by a number of groups, including a 2011 agreement in Myar’s own Kayah states. As a community leader, Myar has been called to participate in this peace process and took part last year in the Myanmar People’s Forum, speaking about the human rights of women and children. She attributes the leadership skills that she acquired at ARI as helping her move this important dialog forward. Speaking in front of people is a skill that took time to develop and the first time she went before her women’s group, “I very shake and I very afraid,” but now, despite her fear, she will stand before people and speak. One of the hardest and saddest events in her life was the passing of her husband in 2002. She was told by many that as a widow she needed to stop her work and stay home, but she still felt called to serve people, so she continued her programs in the villages – three children in tow. “When I stay in the front, the kids all come with me, so I have to carry [my baby] and just stand in front of the people like that, because I don’t want to give up.”